Rory roars but Graeme holds his nerve for victory
“RORY, Rory, Rory ... go Rory ... Rory glory!” They yelled and they screamed and they hollered. All day long the fans were in a frenzy – from little fellas on their dads’ shoulders, from young studs clutching their beers, from big, fat mommas to creamy-skinned young ladies who’d look good on the catwalk. The Rainbow Nation did their utmost best in the final round of the BMW South African Open at Glendower Golf Club yesterday to pay homage to Rory McIlroy.
And the Northern Irishman did his best to give his all to the fans. But ultimately, the world No 2 was blown away by a Storm ... Graeme Storm that is – a player 249 places behind him in the world rankings, after the never-say-die Englishman snatched victory over McIlroy at the third hole of sudden-death play after the pair had gone back and forth from green to tee to green at the par-four 18th before Rory finally capitulated with a bogey.
Actually, “blown away by a Storm” is too extreme. In reality, the two players were neck-andneck coming down the stretch in a heart-stopping final round watched by the biggest gallery I have seen in 40 years covering Sunshine Tour events.
McIlroy started the final round three back of Storm but had reeled him in by the time they walked off the green at the 601-yard monster that is the par-five 13th. While Storm was unable to reach the green in two here, McIlroy smashed a 360-yard drive up the middle and then hit a marvellous six-iron from 240 yards out into the heart of the green, with water lurking perilously close on the left of the putting surface, and two-putted for birdie. Storm parred, and now they were level.
And when the Englishman three-putted for bogey at the short 14th, which meant McIlroy was now one in front, the crowds again went wild. The consensus at that stage by the “experts” behind the ropes was that the Storm had died out and that McIlroy would surge home to a famous first victory on South African soil.
But there was drama at 15 when the third member of the group, England’s Jordan Smith, made an eagle three to pull within one of McIlroy, who at the par-three 17th found a nasty lie in a bunker and couldn’t get out on his first attempt. More drama. That led to a bogey, Storm went for the middle of the green with his tee-shot and his par saw him draw level with the Ulsterman as the pair went to the 18th tee all square.
McIlroy made a few too many mistakes with his longer shots yesterday, but he was typically a wizard with putter in hand as he made sure of cleaning up those tricky four- and five-footers. A good golfer needs to be a good “detective” on the greens, carefully looking for all sorts of clues in terms of break and speed, the texture of the grass, even the wind and how it will effect the stroke.
And McIlroy was a pretty skilled sleuth on the greens, but a wayward drive at the third play-off hole ultimately meant that this was one case he didn’t solve.
Storm is 38 and can probably be described as a journeyman on tour rather than a superstar like McIlroy. Glendower, though, will remain in his mind forever. It was a week in which he went 54 holes without dropping a shot en route to a playoff victory. Fantastic memories.